Manila Standard - Judgment day

News & Interviews
30 September 2019

By Gary Olivar | Manila Standard

"It's these voters whom the electoral tribunal should keep in mind."

Some weeks ago, local newspapers reported that Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa had already circulated to his colleagues (sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal-PET) a report on the findings of the hearing commissioners appointed by the High Court to review evidence on allegations of electoral fraud in three provinces—Iloilo, Negros Occidental, and Camarines Sur—that were singled out by VP aspirant and former senator “Bongbong” Marcos.

Caguioa has reportedly recommended to dismiss Marcos’ electoral protest, on grounds not yet disclosed. Today is when the SC is scheduled to meet en banc on his report. If the Court agrees with him, this could stop in its tracks the long-drawn-out quest by the young Marcos for redress of what by most accounts was a conspiracy by the Liberal Party to rob him of a justly earned electoral victory in 2016.

The Caguioa recommendation, if true, shouldn’t come as a surprise from a SC justice who was once Noynoy Aquino’s presidential legal counsel and acting Justice Secretary. This is an Aquino-appointed justice who has consistently voted with the minority—fellow Aquino appointees Marvin Leonen and the ousted Meilou Sereno as well as the anti-Arroyo hardliner, retiring Senior Justice Tony Carpio—in four politically charged cases:

• Acquittal of former President Arroyo on plunder charges

• Declaration of martial law in Mindanao

• Burial of former President Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani

• Arrest and detention of Senator Leila de Lima

A year ago, it was also Caguioa who penned a PET ruling that allowed ballots with only 25-percent shading on a candidate’s box to be considered valid, over the objections of Marcos’ lawyers. This ruling came out only AFTER Marcos had filed his protest. The obvious problem here is that it would be easier and faster to cheat, the less one has to shade the boxes on a fraudulent ballot.

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What may seem to be mere hairsplitting becomes meaningful when one considers the razor-thin margin of Robredo’s victory over Marcos: only 263,473 votes, or half of one percent of the total votes cast for Robredo. In the same light, other irregularities alleged by Marcos also become noteworthy:

• Many ballot boxes were found to have been damaged, soiled, drenched in water, even containing fish heads and leaves.

• Many of the decrypted ballots that were supposedly read, counted and transmitted by the automated voting machines were found to contain squares not found in the original ballots. The two should have been mirror images of each other.

• Massive cheating was also alleged in many provinces of Mindanao and elsewhere.

The problem is that, if the High Court rules against Marcos in the three provinces covered by the Caguioa report, some are saying that the Court could then refuse to look as well into those other provinces in Mindanao. There might be justification for this in the rules of court, but as a non-lawyer, I’d be dismayed to see the search for truth in something as important as the vice presidential elections abandoned simply because of technicalities.

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A few weeks ago, I had already written in this space about the young Marcos’ electoral problems, in the context of a wider revisit of the Marcos years. It’s not inappropriate, I think, to repeat the issues I brought up then:

• The law requires all election results to be sent directly to seven public servers, located at the canvassing centers for city/municipal, provincial, and national results; the majority and minority parties; the KBP and a citizen’s watchdog. But instead of doing this, Smartmatic allegedly installed a secret server through which the votes first had to pass. If this is true, what was that secret server doing to the votes passing through it?

• On election evening, while the votes were already being counted, Marlon Garcia, a foreign employee of Smartmatic, broke into the system and changed one letter in the name of a senatorial candidate, Roy Seneres, who had died three months earlier. If true, why on earth did this happen? What else could Marlon have changed in the computer code? Marlon has long since skipped the country, together with then-Comelec chairman Andy Bautista after he’d proclaimed the illegal action as “just a cosmetic change.”

• Around the same time the system was compromised, about 7:30 p.m., news reports were proclaiming that Marcos was leading with over a million votes out of 79 percent of total votes already counted. But the rest of that night, the Marcos lead slowly melted away at a regular rate of 40 votes against him, one for him, almost like clockwork. Could this have been the joint product of that secret server together with Marlon’s meddling?

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These are major questions I hope will not be thrown by the wayside simply because of technicalities raised by the Caguioa report before the SC today. As I said in my earlier piece, the real victims of such fraud are not the candidate himself, but the million-odd citizens who voted for him but may have been silenced.

It’s these voters whom the electoral tribunal should keep in mind—not what kind of family Bongbong belongs to—as they continue deliberations that, frankly, should already have been concluded by now.